Cross WalkerA system designed to help people with disablities cross the streets at Abbot Kinney
In the first semester of the Interactive Design bachelores, our assignment was to find a location nearby campus (Santa Monica) and solve a transportation issue.
Timeline: September - December 2019
Contributions: Observations (Primary Research), Stakeholder Interviews, Prototypes & Testing, Concept Video
Teammates: Genevieve Johnson, Andrew Ma
Objective / Challenge
We chose Abbot Kinney as it was a recognizable tourist spot place nearby, with a lot of foot traffic. But after initial observations and talking to we quickly realized it wasn’t at all handicapped accessible. So our guiding question was discovered:
“How might we improve the experience of crossing streets at Abbot Kinney for people with disabilities, creating a more accessible, inclusive environment?”
I. Initial ResearchObservations:
We quickly realized Abbot Kinney wasn’t accessible to people will movement disabilities, especially wheelchairs. The curbs rarely had lips to roll onto, there were very few timed crosswalks throughout the strip, and there was a lack of rest spaces like benches. We watched as a woman had to get out of her wheelchair and with help, walk across the street to make it in time.
We interviewed a woman with a cane who talked about her struggle to mvoe around the hoards of people taking photos at the interesting areas. We also interviewed a man in a wheelchair who talked about his dislike for the cracked and cramped sidewalks in this area.
We came back with our own set of crutches to better put ourselves in the shoes of those with movement disabilities. It was quite eye-opening - and crutches freaking hurt. Pressing the walk buttons was pretty difficult, and the curb lips were essential. We also realized that ~25 seconds is not enough time to cross Venice, the drivers were very impatient; inching forward into the crosswalk like some sort of intimidation tactic to get us moving faster.
We recognized that a lot of these issues are things the city itself has to deal with, but we figured that if we work alongside the city we could at least make the crosswalks safer.
So, our initial idea was to give the people who needed it a wearable, which they could tap once to go straight, twice to go right, or not interact with at all to stay on the sidewalk.
II. The WearableInterviews:
Feedback on the wearable revealed some issues with the wearable; it was a bit too complicated and not accessible for those who don’t have good motor control for their arm.
Sophia, a student with ataxia, stated that she wouldn‘t want to have to wear an extra thing on her just for crosswalks, but might if she needed to.
She also gave us much more insight on what it was like having to cross the street; how she needed to wait at the crosswalk lip, almost into the street, so that she could get a good start to arrive on the other side of the street in time. She stated how scary it was and that she never felt safe doing it.
When we demonstrated this to our classmates there was some confusion on whether anything had changed or not, demonstrating issues with feedback.
Our second idea was quite a pivot; we wanted to experiment with traffic poles automatically rising and lowering alongside the sides of the pedestrians as they crossed the street. The wearable is still there, but only as an alternative to pressing the button if they so choose.
III. The Security PillarsInterviews:
Sophia liked the idea of this a lot; it would be a solid sense of security against traffic.
When we tested this idea by quickly throwing down and putting up little goalie cones around the classmates as they walked we found that the pedestrians did actually feel much safer, even with just the little cones.
But there was a lot of logistic issues with the students representing the cars, who had a hard time finding a safe opportunity to navigate past the cones. It also seemed very difficult and expensive to implement on crosswalks.
So we went back to the idea of simply giving the pedestrian more time. We got rid of the wearable all together in favor of a phone/smartwatch app that had bluetooth capabilities, and floor sensors that would give the user extra time and would provide feedback when it did so.
IV. Phone App and Floor SensorsObservations:
So we went back to Abbot Kinney again, this time with Sophia. We noted the difficulty she was having crossing the cruddy walkways there (providing a helping hand when she needed it), as well as how what it was like getting in position to press the button before crossing.
After icecream, we tested our latest concept with a paper crosswalk icon on the floor, and Genevieve across the street as the feedback signal.
Interviews: We met up with Ojin, an IxD graduate who uses a wheelchair to get around. She had a lot to say in helping make the app more visually clear, as well as more inclusive.
previous sensor designs:
current sensor design:
ReflectionsI’m very grateful for the great feedback and assistance we got from the people with disabilities who tested the app, as there were a lot of things we, as non-disabled people, didn’t take in to account at first, such as:
- • The desire for discreetness.
- • How incredibly capable and adept with technology people with disabilities often are
- • The need for different options and modes, so people can use it exactly as they need to
The next steps would be testing a functioning prototype, and then meeting with city planners to see how feasible it would be in pratcice.